Officials: Do not use heartworm disease medicine meant for animals as COVID-19 treatment

Posted at 4:59 PM, Apr 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-15 17:17:20-04

(WXYZ) — Michigan officials are warning the public against the use of ivermectin – a medicine to treat heartworm disease in animals – as a treatment for COVID-19.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced the warning on Wednesday, adding that ivermectin is only approved by the FDA for use in animals. The medicine has also been used for treatment of certain internal and external parasites in various animal species, as well as humans.

State officials said the drug recently gained attention because of a pre-publication paper for the journal Antiviral Research. The publication showed how SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, responded to the drug ivermectin in a petri dish. However, the drug was never given to people or animals during this study.

“We cannot emphasize this strongly enough: this study was not tested in humans or in animals,” said State Veterinarian Nora Wineland. “It was done in a petri dish. As intriguing as the results may be, at this point, they mean little to nothing in the actual prevention or treatment of COVID-19 in either animals or humans. Ivermectin sold for use in animals has not been evaluated for safety in species other than those listed on the label and may cause serious harm if taken by people.”

In a letter to stakeholders on April 10, the FDA states that it is "concerned about the health of consumers who may self-medicate by taking ivermectin products intended for animals, thinking they can be a substitute for ivermectin intended for humans. People should never take animal drugs, as the FDA has only evaluated their safety and effectiveness in the particular animal species for which they are labeled."

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said that the concern Michiganders have is understandable, however, going about treating with unapproved medicine could cause harm.

“We understand Michiganders’ concerns about COVID-19 and the desire to find a cure quickly,” Khaldun said. “However, there are no approved preventive medications for COVID-19 in humans, and we do not want anyone being harmed by taking medications inappropriately. Staying home and practicing good public health practices like washing hands frequently, wearing a homemade mask if you must go out, and covering coughs and sneezes appropriately is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

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